The Art of Failure

Failing well is an art.

I know that because I don’t do it very well. And I’m trying to learn. 

I’m 42, and learning any new skill at this age takes a lot of practice, but to be honest, practicing failure suuuuuucks. Because in order to fail well, you have to … you know … fail at something. (Or fail someone, which is often worse.)

One of the things I struggle with most in this journey to learn to fail well is something a counselor I was seeing once called a Black/White Distortion. Meaning I tend to look at the world as if in every situation there are always only two choices … one right and one wrong. 

As you can imagine, in this Black and White world when there are only two options, there tends to be a lot of failure. And so, as I lived out of my distorted view of the world, my primary goal became: Avoid failure. At. All. Costs.

This is why I don’t set goals. If I don’t aim for a goal, I cannot fail. (It’s messed up, I know.) 

I spent a lot of years setting the bar high-ish but also low enough where I knew I could reach it without the risk of failure. And then I justified it by comparing my bar to that of the general population. 

I became risk averse because risk meant the possibility of failure. I chose to apply to colleges I knew I would be accepted to. I only participated in sports and games I knew I’d do reasonably well. I didn’t open myself to potential relationships because in my fear they wouldn’t work out, I’d sabotage them before they even began.

It was decades of a safe, albeit boring and underachieving, life.

So why now? What has prompted this desire to learn to fail after 42 years of avoiding it? I’m a parent now. 

Parenting is like the organic chemistry class in the school of life. It’s flippin’ hard.

I’m trying to teach my kids how to fail well. And I can’t very well teach them something I don’t know myself. So (along with skiing) we are all learning the art of failing well together.

As I engage with my kids, I am trying to make failure a normal, everyday part of life. Expected even. I want to live in a way where the possibility of failure is always there. That is not scary … it’s exciting! (Okay maybe a little scary.)

I want to teach them to view the world where failure is not a source of shame, but a badge of bravery they wear proudly because it shows they tried.

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